New law would ban texting while driving

A bill banning text messaging while driving took its first step toward becoming a law last week by passing through the Wisconsin state Senate.

A 27-5 Senate majority approved the bill last week. When the bill was still in committee, members drafted one version that would have made texting illegal only for drivers under the age of 18. Once the bill reached the Senate floor, however, lawmakers changed it to pertain to all drivers. Nineteen other states have similar texting bans in place, said Sen. Alan Lasee (R-De Pere), the bill’s author.

Even though irresponsible cell phone use is currently included under the state’s inattentive driving laws, Lasee feels the texting provision needs to be added.

“Texting is different from talking on the phone because it takes eyes off the road and one or two hands off the wheel,” he said.

Lasee admitted it would be difficult for police to observe texting drivers, but said the idea behind the bill is to educate citizens about the dangerous nature of texting while driving.

Penalties for drivers who are caught texting will vary from case to case if the bill passes into law, depending on number of offenses and whether or not anyone is injured or killed as a result of the behavior. First-time offenders would face a maximum fine of $400. The maximum fine for subsequent offenses would be doubled.

A state assembly committee could start debating the bill sometime this week. Lasee said the bipartisan support the bill has in the Senate will help it through the assembly.